The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus.

At this year’s Harrogate Crime Writing Festival I got to hear Elly Griffiths speak about her character and the location for her novels and she was on my ‘must seek out and read’ list after the event.  Now, with three books out in paperback and a new novel ‘A Room Full of Bones’ about to hit hardback in January, I felt it was time to do a little archaelogical work myself and go back to start from the very beginning.

The Crossing Places is the first novel novel of the series and features unlikely crime heroine, Ruth Galloway, a late-thirties overweight and clumsy Forensic Archaelogist who seems to stumble through life and her relationships and yet be bang on the money when it comes to the detailing of her work.  It’s this quirky combination of traits that makes her so loveable and I did find myself falling for her over the course of this first book – to use an archaeological term; she’s a real find.

Set in Norfolk, specifically near a fictional area of Saltmarsh in Kings Lynn, and complete with a nice little location map so the close proximity of events can be tracked, the story is that of missing and found girls.

Detective Inspector Harry Nelson of the Norfolk Police is on the trail of a missing child, 4 year old Scarlet Henderson, who has been snatched from her garden, the crime hauntingly reminiscent of another young girl, Lucy Downey who went missing ten years earlier when aged 5 and was never found.  The discovery of a child’s bones near the site of the spiritual ‘Seahenge leads to Ruth being called in by DCI Nelson to help date the bones to help identify them.  Rather than being of either recently missing girl, they turn out to be bones that date back over 2000 years to the Iron Age, but are still shrouded in mystery as to why they are at that location – were they a sacrifice?

And then, Ruth’s own hauntings begin, or rather tauntings, as letters start to arrive, texts that refer to Biblical passages and to themes relating to Norse mythology – something that a close friend of hers, Erik, has knowledge of, and something that leads them both to think back to a character who called himself ‘Cathbad’ who was a druid leader who fought to save ‘Seahenge’ being destroyed in the past.  A second child’s body is found and then, with the killer apparently aware that Ruth is working with the Police, she starts to receive text messages and then a very personal horror of her own right on her doorstep.

The mix of detective story, past crimes clashing against current crimes, and the always present hint of the mythological or supernatural, combined with a great central character provide here a very close comparison to the work of John Connolly.

The closing chapters are packed full of great atmosphere with the confusion and darkness of being lost on the saltmarshes in a terrific storm – the tension racking up and up, with only flashes of lightning to reveal the final moments between key players.

And, for all that, I loved it.

Keith

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